EDINBURGH’S bus wars are set to be ramped up with First Bus understood to be planning to launch open-top bus tours in the Capital.
The move is a direct challenge to Lothian Buses who currently offer a range of city tours through their Edinburgh Bus Tours operation.
First issued a “teaser” press release announcing “a new venture” but declined to give further details.
However, an industry insider said: “First Bus are planning open-top tours in Edinburgh. The buses are being prepared in Glasgow at the moment.”
It means the rivalry between the two companies will be fought out in the Royal Mile and other iconic parts of the Capital which are key to the city’s thriving tourist market.
Council-owned Lothian Buses launched new Lothian Country routes in West Lothian last summer, mirroring existing routes connecting West Lothian and the Capital.
Then in March this year, First West Lothian managing director Andrew Jarvis announced plans to retaliate by increasing their services and introducing some in Edinburgh.
And just this week the Evening News told how Lothian had upped the stakes with the purchase of eight new custom-built coaches to operate two new express routes from Bathgate and Linlithgow into Edinburgh, starting from June 30.
Now First is hitting back again with its latest plans “to enter the Edinburgh market in a new venture”.
In a press release, the company said: “On July 1, First Bus embarks on an exciting new chapter to deliver an experience that will create unforgettable memories and leave a lasting impression on the city.
“A bold, new, brand identity has been created specifically for this and will be unveiled next month in the Capital - you won’t be able to miss it.”
The company said it could not comment any further and would not confirm or deny that the venture was a rival open-top bus tour business.
But the press release quoted Mr Jarvis saying: “It is exciting times for everyone at First as we launch this new venture. This has been a huge challenge for everyone involved, but our proposition is one that will stand out from the crowd and will have an immediate impact in the market.”
First is also running a “teaser” campaign in the press and on social media with the words: “Soon it won’t just be Arthur who has the best seat in Edinburgh.”
Lothian currently operates three different city tour routes as well as another tour to the Forth bridges, which is combined with a boat tour.
The hop-on hop-off city tours run all year round, leaving from Waverley Bridge with a frequency of between 10 and 20 minutes during the day in the peak season. Tickets cost £16.
Lothian Buses and First Edinburgh fought were involved in high-stakes bus wars for 18 months around 2001.
The confrontation led to fare cuts, rival buses fighting for passengers on the busiest and most profitable routes and large financial losses for both companies.
At one stage Lothian Buses accused First Group of trying to force it out of business, claiming the private sector rival saw Lothian simply as an obstacle to grabbing a bigger share of the Scottish bus market.
It claimed First was reducing services and increasing fares in areas where it had a monopoly and doing the reverse where it was in competition. First Group declared itself “amazed” at such claims and accused Lothian of being the aggressor.
Lothian Buses said the did not want to comment on First Bus’s latest plans.